Playlist – Aria Rostami & Daniel Blomquist

It is our great pleasure to welcome Aria Rostami and Daniel Blomquist to the Arcana playlist section.

They have been working together on a second collaboration for the Glacial Movements label. Still is the culmination of years of work and musical shapeshifting, the resultant six-track album the ideal companion to our cold weather isolation here in the northern hemisphere

Still was reviewed on Arcana here, but the playlist the pair have put together reflects a little more of their listening, as well as including a couple of tracks from the album. Sit back and get horizontal with a tracklisting that includes stellar works from Bryce Hackford – the gorgeous Coast (maybe) – Mica Levi and Popul Vuh.

Our thanks to Aria and Daniel for this wonderful hour of music:

On Record: Aria Rostami & Daniel Blomquist: Still (Glacial Movements)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The music of Still reflects the circumstances in which the album came together. Aria Rostami and Daniel Blomquist have already released a collaboration for Glacial Movements – the Wandering Eye album – where they focused on the Antarctic Plateau, and the best places to observe space. Yet during that work the building blocks for Still were already in place.

The music explores a process of change over time, describing how time can change its motion in cases of cold weather. Because of this, each track ends up at a different place from where it started.

What’s the music like?

As deep as the ocean, and as slow as a huge ship in icy water. This is music that works well as background listening but reveals its intensity when experienced up close. The structures are as big as the pair’s first album – ten minutes or more in some cases – but maintain their concentrated level throughout.

The use of fragments of speech in the background of Undercooled works well against the foreground and wide background elements, with flecks of piano appearing towards the end. The lovely wide outlook of Hoarfrost works well, with chords shifting very slowly and peacefully, while Crystal Gazer swirls and then settles on a harmonic bed before floating away.

Does it all work?

Yes. These pieces are like six massive chord progressions over a long period of time, but they link together beautifully to make one big structure. It is the coldest of ambient music – you can literally feel the ice at times! – but leaves the sort of warmth you feel when getting back indoors after a stint outside on a cold winter’s day.

Is it recommended?

Yes, along with the duo’s first album. It ticks all the boxes for a Glacial Movements release while keeping its own individual qualities. A subtly invigorating piece of work that makes its mark.

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Switched On – Chihei Hatakeyama & Dirk Serries: Black Frost (Glacial Movements)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

This is the second collaboration on the Glacial Movements label between Chihei Hatakeyama and Dirk Serries, a follow-up of sorts to their album The Storm Of Silence in 2016. Like that release, Black Frost has four tracks and runs for just over 40 minutes, expanding their already widescreen approach of guitars and electronics.

Chihei Hatakeyama is a musician and sound artist currently living on the edge of Tokyo, and has many releases under his belt both as a solo artist and as part of the duo Opitope, with Tomoyoshi Date. Dirk Serries, meanwhile, is an experienced ambient artist based in Belgium who has built up an impressive CV of collaborations through work on an ongoing Microphonics series.

What’s the music like?

Simple – but that word should not be taken lightly. It is simple in the sense that the music is very simple to listen to. Each track largely hangs on a specific pitch, and no effort is required on the part of the listener to reach a meditative calm. In fact the less effort made, the more effective the ambience is. And yet, if the ear moves in for a closer take, the layers and subtle oscillations / variations reveal themselves, and the 40 minutes can be seen as a single unit, one gigantic four-part chord progression.

The textures are wonderfully airy and cool, polar in their chilled temperature but with a hazy warmth too. In terms of colour the music has sharper outlines and more piercing tones than the blue wisps of The Storm Of Silence – hence the dark overtones of the cover.

Those dark colours become more evident in third track Breen, which gives off an icy residue, but they don’t take root as such – and Frossen Luft closes out the quartet with more drawn-out pitches which eventually disappear into the middle distance.

Does it all work?

Yes. As anyone familiar with Glacial Movements releases will know, the ambience is of the deeply immersive kind, ideal for the end of a working day, the beginning of a new one, or an antidote to the fast and worrisome pace of life we are faced with from time to time.

Is it recommended?

For sure. Anyone enjoying previous music from this source will not need further encouragement, for Black Frost ends up as the ideal complement to The Storm Of Silence. It may be darker in countenance but it still ends up in the same, contemplative space.

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Switched On – The Orb: Abolition of the Royal Familia (Cooking Vinyl)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The Orb need no introduction of course, being long familiar to admirers of ambient music since 1988. Theirs is an ever-changing line-up, orbiting the one constant of the equation, Dr Alex Paterson, and on this, their 17th studio album, Michael Rendall is elevated to the top table. He joins Paterson at the controls for a record including a number of starry guest turns.

Regular collaborators Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy (aka System 7) and Youth appear, alongside Roger Eno, David Harrow of On-U Sound, and – this being The Orb – a four legged friend, the Paterson pooch Ruby.

The album takes as its lead the royal family’s nod to the East India Company and its opium trade – both an inspiration and a protest against a movement causing two wars between India and China in the 18th and 19th centuries.

What’s the music like?

Lovely. There is little sense of explicit protest, and the guests all fit in to the overall mood seamlessly. The Orb have a very happy knack for matching quantity with quality, and even though it is barely a year since their last outing, Abolition of the Royal Familia sounds fresh and very much at ease in its own company.

At 77 minutes it’s a good stretch, but that gives the listener even more room to drift in and out of focus if required. Working together as Paterson and Rendall do means the door is never closed to a variety of styles and, very happily, humour too.

The speed with which Daze slips into a comfortable groove might surprise, a lead on which House of Narcotics and Hawk King build with their chugging beats. The latter displays The Orb’s familiar ambient house credentials as well as paying affectionate tribute to one of their most famous fans.

Gradually the tracks pan out and we experience more horizontal musical thoughts. Spacious intros provide warmth on a Californian scale, the listener allowed to bathe in consonant harmonies that drift back and forward like the ebbing of the tide. Shape Shifters (In Two Parts) goes further, adding a dreamy trumpet solo from 17-year old Oli Cripps, who Paterson met in his local record shop.

Also easing into the long form bracket is The Weekend It Rained Forever, a spacey, piano-led number towards the end, proving the ideal foil for the clattering breakbeats of The Queen Of Hearts preceding it.

Happily the band’s trademark collage of samples will make you smile, despite the inevitable rejection of a Prince Charles number. “We are WNBC”, begins Afros, Afghans and Angels, “the West Norwood Broadcasting Corporation. Streaming live to you whoever, wherever and whatever you are.” Yet a surprising and devastating payoff is saved for the finish. “Stay in your homes, do not attempt to contact loved ones or attorneys”, runs the key refrain of Slave Till U Die No Matter What U Buy, the Jello Biafra homage unintentionally marking itself out as an isolation anthem for our time.

Does it all work?

Yes. It is arguably too long, but with music like this duration is much less of an issue, especially with plenty going on around the perimeter on headphones. Certainly seasoned Orb followers will not see it as a problem. It could also be argued that Abolition of the Royal Familia does not introduce anything particularly new – again, not a problem, since The Orb always know how to reach those ambient parts few others can reach.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Abolition of the Royal Familia falls seamlessly into line alongside the recent additions to The Orb’s cannon, and has many moments of genuine bliss. It is like a sonic warm bath at either end of a trying day.

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Switched On – BVDUB: Ten Times The World Lied (Glacial Movements)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Life begins at forty, goes the saying – but that is the figure on which Brock Van Wey, or BVDUB as he is better known in musical circles, is closing in. That’s forty albums, too, an astonishing achievement when you consider the consistency of his ability to write pure musical ambience that also touches the heart.

Van Wey’s fifth for the Glacial Movements label has a provocative title, especially in these testing times for the world against which he rails. It has a powerful order to it as well – ten tracks, each of them recorded on the tenth of the month, recording ending ten months after it began.

For the first time Van Wey dispenses with vocals, letting his electronics and sound files do the talking.

What’s the music like?

Ten Ways The World Lied is incredibly descriptive, and also profoundly moving if heard at the right time and place. The slow moving musical motifs are often cast in the midst of thick, ambient clouds, yet there is a deep set feeling too that connects them closely to the earth.

Van Wey’s layered approach has a keen sonic beauty on headphones or on big speaker systems, the textures swirling closely around the listener but also allowing for an expanse of vast space.

Despite the titles there is no obvious protest element to the music, though it does feel very closely connected to primal and natural forms. Not Yours To See is underwritten by a lovely piano line, while Not Yours To Give sounds like a distant choir. Not Yours To Find is very richly textured, the sounds floating, while Not Yours To Keep pans out further, moving slowly but surely before a warmer swirl of sounds near the end.

Not Yours To Take keeps the soft harmonies but adds a lovely heat haze, and while Not Yours To Rule is similarly warm Not Yours To Break provides the ultimate resolution, a warm breeze that gradually settles on a beautifully held note.

Does it all work?

Yes. Once again BVDUB secures the deceptively difficult combination of simplicity and powerful expression, through musical content that moves slowly but can prove to be completely hypnotic and calming.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. An excellent collection of a producer who has been a deserved mainstay of electronica’s top table for more than two decades, and whose music can cover a wide selection of dancefloors. It should encourage listeners to delve even further into his considerable early output. I know I will!

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